With respect to old age
Global long-term trends in population ageing are driven by two main factors, both with implications for social work practice. The first is increasing longevity: more people are able to live longer because of developments in health, welfare and medical technology. The second trend is declining birth rates: this means that over time the proportion of older to younger people has shifted, with an impact on the ability of younger generations to provide informal support for elders. But when is ‘old’? Between and within global national jurisdictions there are differences in the thresholds by which people are regarded as being
‘older’, for example, there are variations in the age of eligibility for retirement pensions, access to concessions or eligibility for senior housing. In addition to formal definitions there are cultural and individual variations in the perception of ageing that make simple age-based definitions less relevant to how individuals experience their own ageing process. Because people are not all the same, individuals may vary in their own consciousness of ageing and experience of being treated as aged, and this relates to many other parts of their life, such as health, wealth, education, pension rights and socialization (Gilleard and Higgs 2005). For some people discrimination on the grounds of age is experienced in a context of earlier and/or current discrimination based on ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability (Ward and Bytheway 2008). People may, therefore, be defined or consider themselves to be ‘old’ across a wide age range stretching from the mid-fifties to over one hundred. Older populations are also highly varied in terms of culture, attitudes and expectations, so that people who have experienced lifelong poverty and deprivation may experience a very different old age to many of the affluent and well educated post-war ‘baby boomers’ who are arguably part of the rise of the ‘individualized consumer citizen’ (Rees Jones et al. 2008). It is important for professionals working with older people to understand the contexts of ageing, and to have a good sense of the kinds of support that are available, and appropriate, in particular circumstances.